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Sunday, June 16, 2024
The Observer

From two legal aliens

Editor’s Note: Rebecca Feng co-authored this column with her twin sister, April Feng.

“Protect yourself. Don’t date American guys. Racism in America will never come to an end. He will never truly respect you.”

“Mom, you read about America from the news. I will go to America, and I will find out for myself.”

“Rebecca,” she sighed, “you are too young, too naive.”

I happily waved goodbye to my parents at the security checkpoint, my mom crying on my dad’s shoulder. I turned back and told myself — they were probably just too old to understand it all.

I saw him walking towards me, gold hair and blue eyes, exactly like Tom, the white boy who was in every dialogue example of my elementary school English textbook. All characters in my textbook are white, but I thought that was just America, right?

I could feel his eyes moving from the Moses statue behind me, to my black hair and to my black eyes. Smile, I told myself, people always smile to each other in this country. I smiled. He smiled back. We walked past each other. So satisfied.

Back then, I wore a smile like I wore my clothes.

Back then, I smiled at everyone I saw on campus.

Back then, I had no experience nor fear.

That was the America I wanted to be in.

I realized my immigration status in this country — a “legal alien.” That phrase stuck with me. I found it funny to be an alien, because aliens have green faces, long ears and round eyes.

I told my professor I would be going back to China after graduation. “That’s home, you know?”

“But America needs you.”

I couldn’t stop laughing. “Come on Professor.”

“I said it with all sincerity and seriousness.”

He was not even blinking. Looking into his eyes, I, the legal alien, felt for the first time that I belonged to this little sacred campus, even this country. Then I felt as if I were about to fly.

“U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump is being called a racist by the American mainstream media, and yet, he was able to gather large amounts of popular votes ... ,” the voice of China Central Television’s news anchor echoed above the dinner table.

“I got an internship in Washington, D.C.,” I told my mom, raising my voice to cover the broadcaster.

“Not bad,” she rolled her eyes. “Don’t be too upset though if you don’t end up being as successful as you want,” she quickly added. “After all, there is a glass ceiling for Chinese people in America.”

I giggled. “Mom, I guarantee you. All my American friends are super nice. Honestly, they helped me more than I could ever imagine.”

“Good, good. I am just reminding you of the reality. You are still young.”

“I have been living in that ‘reality’ for two and a half years now. It is not what you thought. Or ... ,” I did not know where that sudden urge of defending America came from, “Are you doubting my ability?”

“No, not doubting you, my dear,” my mom’s voice trembled. “It is just … I don’t want you to be hurt.”

Sept. 26, first presidential debate, couch in our room, listening to Trump talking about our country — “They’re using our country [America] as a piggy bank to rebuild China.”

“I feel like watching that old Chinese movie again, shall we?” April asked.

“Agreed,” I said.

In the movie, Meng’s lifelong dream was coming to America, the only place where all dreams could come true. He was talking to his friends in the cafe he once worked at as a busboy. He said he sucked his boss’ disrespect in and thought to himself that one day he would be stronger than her, and then she wouldn’t dare to laugh at him. “But years later, I brought my proudest achievement, our business, to this country. I thought that would win me the respect I deserved. But no. I waited for the person I came to meet for eight hours and drank six cups of coffee. Then the receptionist politely told me that they never intended to meet me. That was when I finally realized, we were really just too young, too naive.”

Then I found myself repeating “too young, too naive.” So did April.

“Why did we watch this?” I asked April.

“To remind ourselves of the reality.”

“What the hell is that?”

“Dunno,” she murmured, “but I know I have had enough brainwash.”

I laughed. “By America? By China?”

“I will find out for myself.”

“Will you judge my country based on the result from last night?” My friend was worried.

“Sorry, I cannot help it,” I said.

“Will you judge me then?”

“I hope not.” I didn’t want to lie. “You know, it seems like, in this country, many judge me personally simply because of where I come from, which I do not have any right to choose.”

She looked down.

“But no, I will not judge you based on your own president-to-be, whom your people have every right to choose. True, it would save my time to judge, but I guess I am willing to spend that time. I promise you.”

She looked up, and I saw it in her eyes, yes, it is faith that explains both our failures and our hopes.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.